Independence, Missouri (Ain’t that Peculiar?) June 18-23, 2012

Heading north from Branson, we tackled our other postponed event. Our next door neighbors in Tucson this winter were Keith and Cherie Begley, and our new friendship grew during the stay. Two of their long-time friends, Charlotte Thornton and Marvin Krekel, also spent the winter in Tucson. We’ve been staying in close communication with Keith and Cherie and promised we’d link up with the four of them on our trip back east.

Keith and Cherie lived in KC before relocating about 30 miles south to a home in the town of Peculiar, Missouri. Charlotte and Marvin are doing what we’ve done; they started out renting their home for six months and have now extended that to 30 months. They are living in their fifth wheel on the Kansas side.

We home-based in Independence for several reasons. The in-town campground is a personal favorite. We wanted to review its Mormon roots, now that we’d been to Salt Lake City. I needed a quick re-visit to the Truman Library/Museum with camera in hand this time. And there were a couple of attractions just 20 minutes away in downtown KC that all of us wanted to see. I didn’t forget my camera, but both of the downtown attractions prohibited photography.

During our 2010 visit, we’d found our way down to 18th and Vine to explore the American Jazz Museum. Time was too short, however, to pay similar attention to its building partner, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. So all six of us converged on it one morning. Our timing was fortuitous; the MLB All-Star game was right there in KC and just two weeks away. Not only that, that weekend was the last time the Royals and the Cardinals would play inter-league ball during the regular season. So baseball fever was rife.

The Museum forms a circle around its central focus: The Coors Field of Legends. It’s a stadium with a much pulled-in outfield that features bronze life-size players at every position. Once you’ve come in through the turnstile, you see this exhibit through the backstop fence; but once you’ve circled it through the rest of the Museum’s treasures, you can walk the field and read the plaques of each person represented, each one a player enshrined in Cooperstown: Josh Gibson (C), Buck Leonard (1B), Pop Lloyd (2B), Judy Johnson (SS), Ray Dandridge (3B), and Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston and Leon Day in the outfield. On the mound? Satchel, of course. At bat is Martin Dihigo, the only man to be inducted into the baseball halls of fame in three countries — Mexico, Cuba and the United States.

You start with a movie narrated by James Earl Jones. With great footage, it unwinds the story of the League from origins through demise. Baseball was a big sport with African Americans starting in the late 19th century, but it was 1920 before an organized structure was put in place, when the National Negro League was formed. Rival leagues followed, and in its heyday, 19 states – all south of New England and all but two east of the Mississippi – rostered nearly 100 teams. When Mr. Rickey signed Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs in 1947, the gates were opened; by 1959 every MLB team had at least one black player. The fans followed, and that doomed the Negro Leagues. They all folded by 1959.

Exhibits take many forms; they lead you chronologically from the earliest days, and they focus on the pioneers, the journeymen and the hardships of low wages and segregated travel. One, called Beisbal, shows the parallel development of South American ball over the same period. There’s a second theater featuring TV documentaries, and there’s a heroes’ exhibit, with each man (and three women) honored with a locker of their own.

NLBM clearly states that it is not a Hall of Fame. Buck O’Neil, the Monarchs’ first base magician and the founding force behind the Museum, thought that it would simply intensify the segregated aspects of the game. Its purpose, instead, is to herald all African-Americans who participated at every level. There’s a list, however, of the forty or so NLB players who’ve been elected to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Only 9 of them played in both leagues – think you can name them?

Buck died in 2006 at 94; the Museum’s Research and Education Center bears his name. So does his favorite seat in Royals stadium; it’s given every game to an honored guest, and Sharon Robinson, daughter of that other aforementioned Monarch player, occupied it on All-Star night.

The Museum is trying to raise enough money to move to a larger venue, an old YMCA building they already own down the street. They threw big parties on All-Star weekend, and they were visited for the first time by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Keep your fingers crossed.

Keith and Cherie staked (actually ribbed) us all to lunch at their favorite BBQ place, Jack Stack. I quickly became addicted to burnt ends. We all rolled out of there across the street to Union Station to see Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. From the station’s grand lobby, one enters a very different world, holding a ticket which identifies him or her as a specific passenger on the ill-fated ship. You first enter a room where the concept, composition and construction is portrayed.  Following this are a series of realistic chambers representing areas of the ship’s interior, The full wall image of the Grand Staircase makes you want to try to climb it!   From engine rooms to the bridge, and from orlop to first class cabins, most major sections of the ship are displayed.  Each room contains some of the 300 actual treasures exhumed from the deep –- hull plates, rivets, White Star china, tools, personal effects and interior fixtures all tell parts of the story.  As you work your way toward the two hours of horror, you get to touch a 15 x 40 foot wall of real ice that represents the killer.  Then you move ahead to check the list on the wall to see if you’re a survivor. The last sections details the identification of the wreck, mapping of its layout, and exploring the seven recovery missions.  It was very dramatic, but it didn’t live up to our expectations,.  Nor was it a cheap date!

We had the next day on our own. First stop was the LDS Visitors Center. We had our usual pleasant encounter with the supervisors — whom I’d met the day before in the local Walmart. Our assigned missionary led us through a series of reconstructions of the times in Independence, and we learned a lot more about the history and intricacies of that period.

On our earlier stop here, we learned that the 250,000 strong Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) (now the Community of Christ) is the more dominant group in Independence, with its temple, headquarters and auditorium dominating the scene.  The Church had a major schism after Joseph Smith’s murder, with Brigham Young leading the largest body west to Salt Lake City and other Church elders, including Smith family members, stopped in Independence to build what they considered the real heritage.

The nearest LDS temple is in Kansas City.  But let me add another dimension.  Just beyond the Community of Christ enclave is yet another offshoot of the LDS: The Church of ChristTemple Lot. This sect, which numbers only about 2,500, occupies the site where Joseph Smith dedicated a temple in 1831.  Smith claimed that this spot was the original Garden of Eden, and when Adam and Eve were ejected, they fled some 50 or so miles north to another area owned by the LDS, which they named Adam-ondi-Ahmam.  A few miles away, I also passed the temple of the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter group still advocating polygamy.  Confused enough yet?

Across the street from the huge Community of Christ Auditorium is the U.N. Peace Plaza. In the auditorium, on June 27, 1945, President Truman announced that the United States had signed the U.N. Charter the previous day. The Plaza was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of its founding, The statue stands 12.5 feet above the tiled world globe dome. Since the dedication, a fountain has been added, flowing from the dome. Additional funds are being solicited for expansion of the garden and seating areas.

Approximately 15 miles north of Independence lies the city of Liberty, Missouri. It was there on December 1, 1838, that Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and close associates Sidney Rigdon, Alexander McRae, Lyman Wright and Caleb Baldwin were incarcerated in the Liberty Jail. After being driven from Independence in 1833, the Saints moved north and formed new settlements in Far West and Adan ondi Ahman.  It wasn’t long before they were again ousted, this time with greater violence.  The leaders surrendered to try to stem further bloodshed.  They were sent to the Liberty Jail, where they spent four months in freezing, deplorable conditions. As they were about to be indicted on a dozen charges, including murder and treason, they were allowed to escape and high-tailed it to Quincy, Illinois, where the next phase of LDS development took place.  Revered as sacred because of the revelations received and conveyed by Smith during his stay, the jail was bought by the church in the 1960’s, and a full-size, cutaway replica of the scene was reconstructed inside a visitors’ center.

My trip back through the Truman Library and Museum was enjoyable and fruitful. Most of all, I wanted to get my own picture of the Thomas Hart Benton mural that dominates the foyer. The story of the Truman family’s life and times are displayed in a number of different formats, some based on the chronology of events and other times on life experiences. An assortment of pictures follows: the mural, inflation, good times, Israel recognition, civil rights, the 1948 party split (Truman/Wallace/Thurmond), the cold war, Korea, the A-bomb scare, Commie hunting, Mac’s axing, personal story (6), statue (2), memorial garden with graves of Harry, Bess, Margaret and Clifton Daniels, the Oval Office, family album, family homestead, and the famous sign. The family homestead is nearby at 219 N. Delaware; it was in Bess’s family since the mid 19th century.

The last picture above shows Harry’s ID from AES in World War I. While he had challenging times during his career, dealt with frankly at the Museum, none involved his leadership capability, proven decisively during that campaign.

We ended our stay by driving down to Peculiar for a long luncheon with our four friends. It’s not as much fun to part when the next encounter isn’t scheduled, but we’ve promised to never again be strangers.

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